By FRED KRONER
Photo by Emily Jankauski: Recognizing Mahomet Ace Hardware as the Business of the
Year, Darwyn Boston (left) gives manager Wayne Munster (second from left)
and co-owners Amy Hood and Jim Hood their award.
Fourteen years ago, Jim and Amy Hood took something familiar and tried something different.
The Gibson City couple, who own an Ace Hardware store in their community, bought the existing Ace Hardware in Mahomet.
They were well-versed in the business, but not so much with the customer base.
“When we came to Mahomet,” Jim Hood said, “you wonder how people will welcome you.”
They had reason for their concerns. They were following a local institution.
The Mahomet Ace Hardware had been operated for 29 years by Ernie and Millie Rosenberg, whose tenure in the hardware store business in other cities dated back to the 1940s.
The Hoods found a village that embraced them and their business.
“From the first, Mahomet people were terrific,” Jim Hood said. “It’s hard to describe. There was a lot of genuine warmth.”
The Hoods received even more feel-good news on Monday when they learned that Ace Hardware was chosen as the Mahomet Area Chamber of Commerce 2017 Business of the Year.
In the closest voting ever, Ace prevailed by one vote. The other two finalists, Farm Credit Illinois and J.T. Walker’s Restaurant and Brewery, tied for second.
Vote totals were not released at the annual Chamber banquet, held at Mahomet-Seymour High School.
Jim Hood regarded his business as the underdog.
“Justin (Taylor, from J.T.’s) is homegrown and has created this entity from scratch,” Hood said. “He has created a unique business.”
When the announcement was made, Hood said his initial reaction was “how proud we are of all the people and what a nice community Mahomet is,” he said.
As Monday’s event drew to a close, the Hoods hadn’t settled on how to celebrate the recognition.
“We’ll do something,” he said, “but we don’t know what yet.
“I know they (the staff) enjoy serving other people.”
Ace Hardware has a staff of 13. Seven are full-time workers. Three of the veteran employees worked at the store when the Rosenbergs were owners.
As the Hoods became more immersed in the community, they were soon greeting people they knew.
“People I grew up with (in Gibson City) have migrated to Mahomet,” said Jim Hood, President of the Board of Directors at Gibson Area Hospital for 19 years.
Though the Hoods don’t currently live in Mahomet, they have reason to spend time in the village beyond owning a store.
Their daughter, Kristen Hood, is in her fourth year as a second-grade teacher at Sangamon School.
“She provides a connection,” said Jim Hood, whose father was a hardware store owner.
Business of the Year voters include more than the 13 members (two ex-officio) who sit on the Mahomet Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors.
Any of the nearly 215 businesses who belong to the Chamber — as well as those within their companies designated as representatives — are eligible to vote.
During the first eight years of operation locally for the Hoods, they worked with a facility that had approximately 7,100 square feet.
In 2012, they expanded eastward (into what had been the NAPA location) and, by tearing out the wall, added 29 percent more retail space.
“We’re always looking for new things,” Amy Hood said. “We’d like to concentrate on businesses and let them know what we can do to help.
“Our goal is to be more helpful for them and be what the community needs us to be.”
Wayne Munster is the store manager.
The Hoods are pleased by their decision in 2004 to branch out.
“The community is safe, the schools are good and it’s a great place to have our business,” Jim Hood said. “We enjoy spending time in the store and would like to spend more time in Mahomet.”
Mahomet Area Chamber of Commerce Recent Business of the Year recipients
2017 Ace Hardware
2016 ReMax Realty & Associates, the Taylor boys
2015 Darwyn Boston State Farm
2014 Bridle Brook Adult Community
2013 First Mid Illinois Bank and Savings
2012 Fisher National Bank
2011 Walk Chiropractic
2010 USPRO Services
2009 Busey Bank
2008 Mahomet Insurance Centre
2007 Mahomet IGA